ELGIN — Beth Wasley has painted sets for the Elgin Opera House for about five years, and this year she is expanding the project.

Wasley, the new art teacher at the middle school and high school in Elgin, wanted to involve her art class in painting the set for “Matilda,” a musical inspired by Roald Dahl’s book of the same name.

She proposed the project to Dianne Greif, Elgin superintendent.

“She was really excited and so supportive of the idea to get kids here to help at the Opera House,” Wasley said. “It seemed like a win-win situation.”

Greif said she’s pleased to have the connection between Wasley and the Elgin Opera House. She said she’s been working with Blue Mountain Community College to figure out a way to offer credits for students who are involved in Opera House productions.

“In the past we have had kids involved in the Opera House productions in many ways — acting, choreography, sets, lights, etc.,” Greif said. “My dream, some day, is to have classes that fit into that same option of acting, drama and production. We will get there, and I am excited to have Beth on board to help continue building that relationship.”

Elgin Opera House - Matilda set and EHS

Beth Wasley/Contributed image

Elgin High School art students helped paint the set for “Matilda,” a production that opened Oct. 1 at the Elgin Opera House.

Wasley and her class of 20 high school students rode a bus to optimize their work time at the theater. The paints were ready when they arrived so they could get right to work.

“The kids were awesome — so enthusiastic and eager,” Wasley said.

The real-world art experience seemed to resonate with the teens.

“I’m glad I got to do it because it has helped me realize I want to do more with the Opera House — maybe set design or lighting,” Abby Saffell said.

For the foreign exchange students, this art class differed from those back home.

“It is something new and more practical and hands-on — very different from art classes in Spain, which involve a lot of art history and taking notes,” Lucia Garcia said.

Vittoria Pasquini, an exchange student from Italy, thought it was an interesting approach to art.

“It was fun and exciting and new,” Pasqunin said. “I’m going to suggest we paint sets to my art teacher back in Italy.”

The students painted shelves and applied a base coat on all the books that represent the library (Matilda, the main character, is big into books). Back in the classroom, they made 600 papier-mache leaves to decorate the fake trees on stage.

“That took a week,” Wasley said with a laugh.

Their hard work was unveiled on opening night, Oct. 1.

“It looks so cool,” Wasley said. “There’s no way it could have gotten done without a crew of helpers.”

A few students painted on the weekends too, and Wasley said Elynor Harris was also a “major contributor” who worked every day at the Opera House.

“Matilda” continues on Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 23. For information and tickets, go to www.elginoperahouse.com.

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